February 2, 2016 / 1:17 PM / 2 years ago

Maldonado hoping for 2017 return to F1, says manager

LONDON (Reuters) - Venezuelan driver Pastor Maldonado has not given up on Formula One and hopes to be back next year after being dropped by the Renault-owned Lotus team, his manager Nicolas Todt said on Tuesday.

Formula One - F1 - Russian Grand Prix 2015 - Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia - 9/10/15 Pastor Maldonado of Lotus during practice Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Hoch Zwei Livepic

“I don’t see any concrete opportunity for Formula One this year,” the Frenchman told Reuters. “We will try to bounce back in 2017.”

The Frenchman, son of International Automobile Federation (FIA) president and former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt, said the decision to replace Maldonado had come late in the day but the split was amicable.

Maldonado announced on Monday, in a statement posted on Twitter, that he would not be on the starting grid when the season starts in Australia on March 20.

The only Venezuelan to win a grand prix, with Williams in 2012, the driver did not say what he planned to do or give any reason for his absence.

Media reports indicated, however, that his backers, the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA that has paid tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship, had missed scheduled payments to the team.

PDVSA has been hit by plunging oil prices and economic crisis in Venezuela, which is in recession and where annual inflation has risen to almost 150 percent.

“I don’t want to go into the details of the contract,” said Todt “The agreement was terminated in a friendly manner with Renault so no hard feelings. They behaved very fairly.”

Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen is set to replace Maldonado, with the team expected to be renamed as Renault following the French carmaker’s takeover of the Lotus team in December, alongside British rookie Jolyon Palmer.

The team are due to hold a news conference in Paris on Wednesday to announce their line-up, managerial structure and future plans.

Manor, Formula One’s smallest team who competed as Marussia last year and finished last overall with no points, are the only ones yet to contract any drivers for 2016 but Todt ruled out Maldonado going there.

The Frenchman, who was also manager to the late Marussia driver Jules Bianchi and represents Brazilian Felipe Massa at Williams, said Manor were a better fit for a young driver starting out than a 30-year-old race winner like Maldonado.

Manor, who need their drivers to bring substantial sponsorship to make up the team budget, have been linked to Indonesian rookie Rio Haryanto who is trying to raise $16 million to secure the seat.

Mercedes’s German reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein is another leading candidate now that the champions are providing Manor with engines.

“Manor are not really an option,” said Todt. “After five years at Williams and Lotus...with all due respect to Manor, it makes no sense for Pastor.”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer

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